a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Sunday, October 29, 2006

An Odd Movie Weekend

So after catching only one movie in theaters in the past few months (The Departed), I made a concerted effort to get out this weekend and actually see some stuff.

I wound up seeing two movies that are about as different as can be.

Saturday's movie was Jackass 2, aka the-latest-sign-that-our-civilization-is-going-into-the-toilet. The refined part of me was appalled that the unrefined part of me throughly enjoyed it. The unrefined part of me then knocked down the refined part and took a dump on his face.

Jackass 2 is pretty easy to review. If you liked the first one, if you liked the series, you'll probably like the second. I doubt I've ever laughed more while watching a movie, but your results may vary.

The weird thing about Jackass is that it has a huge heterosexual male audience despite the fact that it is really rather gay (not that there is anything wrong with that). There is copious nudity in the movie, all of it male, while I don't think there's a woman under 50 in the entire film.

The odd thing is that, despite all of the horrible, disturbing things in the movie (including a leech attaching itself to an eyeball, something even I couldn't watch), the only thing that they had to censor to get the R rating was a shot of someone drinking some horse sperm.

Apparently all the testicle shots were somehow less objectionable.

Sunday's movie was The Queen, which manages to pull an involving drama out of what initially seems like impossible subject matter, in the reaction of the Queen of England to the death of Princess Diana. I can't even imagine how you'd sell that project in a room.

It took me a little while to get into it, but by the end I was wrapped up in the tale, and it's worth seeing.

I can almost guarantee that I may have been the only person seeing both of those movies on consecutive days, though. Not a lot of audience overlap there.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Weekend Boxoffice #5

The only movie that is really opening wide this week is SAW III, on 3167 screens, which for better or worse is likely to do at least twice as much as any other movie out there.

Interestingly, it'll probably make more in theaters than the first one, despite having much fewer stars in it. The power of a franchise.

So easy pickings this week, just one movie.

My guess: $31.1 million.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

I'm a Logic-Fascist, and Proud Of It

So I was reading a post on another writing blog the other day, where a blogger was giving advice to screenwriters on how to get their scripts good coverage from readers.

One of the pieces of advice was to make sure the script had no logic holes. It's good advice, though the way the blogger couched it wasn't; she made it sound like the only reason that one should do it is that many readers are "logic-fascists" who put undue importance on logic in screenplays, and so one needs to remove the logic holes, even if it "upsets the delicate dramatic balance you've crafted".

I'm not entirely sure she was completely serious, but it's not going to stop me from making this point --

Most people who go to the movies are logic-fascists.

The most common comment I heard from people who saw The Departed -- from those who liked it, and those who didn't -- were complaints about one particular scene, in which a cell phone rings at a time when it just feels illogical.

Generally-solid movies like Minority Report and War of the Worlds lost big points with a lot of people because of the logic flaws in them.

And there's a good reason for this. Logic flaws take you out of the movie, and make you think about something that you shouldn't be thinking about at that moment. If your brain is stubbing its toe on something that makes no sense, that's major. That needs to be addressed.

Not because readers are anal about it, but because it bothers everyone.

Movies can survive small logic holes, but why should they have to? There's no reason why you shouldn't craft your script to make absolute sense, simply because it's going to make for a much, much better movie.

And a much better read. And yeah, the last thing you want to do is to give a reader anything to latch onto that doesn't work in your script, because it'll just taint the things that does.

Audiences are logic-fascists, and writers need to be too.

Because if anything is going to upset delicate dramatic balance, it's that logic hole.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Departed (No Spoilers)

An odd movie, in that it has a lot of real story flaws and underdeveloped character motivations. It's the kind of movie where two people who have seen it can pick away for a while at the things that don't work, as I did with a friend this morning.

Still, it's a very good movie, and I was thoroughly engaged and entertained throughout. I'm not sure why I liked it as much as I did, only that the acting is great, Scorcese does a good job, and I was caught up in it throughout.

I suspect that they trimmed a lot to even bring it in at this long length, however, and that may be why some of the plot stuff (particularly involving "the girl", and Matt Damon's motivations at various times) seems rather thin.

But I still recommend it. The squeamish may want to beware, though; brain matter does fly.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Weekend Boxoffice #4

Odd collection this week. FLICKA on 2877 screens, and THE PRESTIGE and FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS on a lot less -- 2281 and 1876, respectively.

We'll keep the prediction game to those three movies. I think it'll be a catfight with The Departed to be #1, but I'll be surprised if anything breaks $15 million.

FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS $14.8 million
THE PRESTIGE $13.9 million
FLICKA $8.1 million

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Hanging Out With Writers

So late Tuesday afternoon I lugged my bones down to Westwood, to meet with two fellow writers who are separately in town for the week (despite both coincidentally being from the same general area of the Midwest); one was a Nicholl semifinalist last year, and one is one this year, so we're all in the same huge subsection of aspiring-but-hopeful screenwriters.

We met at a Starbucks for an hour or two, then wandered across the street to a bar for some drinks/dinner, and just spent a couple more hours there, just talking about movies, and about writing, and the hunt for representation, and just shooting the shit.

And it was a lot of fun, and it made me realize that it has been a long time since I have done that.

There are writers in L.A. that I occasionally get together with, but too often those evenings have a different thrust; we play poker or Scene It, or watch short films, and it's great, but it's different. There isn't enough pure writing/movies talk.

One of the two guys I met the other night is about to move to L.A., despite the fact that he knows no one here. And then yesterday, on the Wordplayer board, another writer posted a similar query; he's fairly new in L.A., and wants to know where to go to meet writers.

I replied with the suggestion that maybe it's time to put together something regular. Come up with a location where a group of people meet to hang out. Maybe once or twice a month at first; maybe, once it gets rolling, every single week.

A regular place, a regular time. If you want to go, you can; if you don't, you don't have to. No pressure, no RSVPs, just a place you can drop by and find people like yourselves.

Logistically it's tricky. Just in terms of avoiding traffic (for those of us north of the hills), Saturday nights might be best. It would be great to find a place somewhere centrally located, say in Westwood, that has the space to accomodate fluctuating groups, whether 2 people show up on a particular night, or 40.

When I lived in Manhattan in the 1990s, I regularly attended a somewhat-similar group, that met in a Times Square Howard Johnson's every Friday night for years. I once blogged about it here.

Even though that group was not screenwriter-centric (while Howard Johnson's is gone, and the group has apparently scattered), it did show that the basic concept works, and there's no reason why a regular gathering of screenwriters can't work either, whether we hook it into seeing a movie the same night or not.

Anyone who is interested in attending, or helping to get this to work, post here, or e-mail me privately. Because it's time.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Representation Game (Part I)

So when the list of Nicholl quarterfinalists, semifinalists and finalists came out 12 days ago, for a little while I felt like a wallflower who had just woken up with boobs. Suddenly all the guys were showing interest.

(Okay, that's probably not a good analogy, since I'm a straight man. But you get the idea. I hope).

First, I got a call from a guy at a production company (which I ironically did a little reading work for a few years ago, though that had been long forgotten by them) who wanted to read my script. Then the e-mails started flooding in. Mostly from manager/producers; everyone is a manager/producer nowadays.

It was nice, for a while. But then the flood shut off.

For the record, my script being on their list of Nicholl semi-finalists got me 1 phone call and 11 e-mails so far. Not a single one from from an agent, even a cheesy one.

Still, there are some good management companies on that list. Not all 12 requests are solid ones, but enough are.

Some wanted the script e-mailed to them, and some wanted hard copies snail-mailed to them. Some wanted me to sign dire-looking release forms (and for a couple, I did); others didn't care.

So, armed with some good advice from other writers who had been through this before (who warned me, among other things, not to send out my script too wide, and to avoid the small management companies who really only want to attach themselves as producers, and not build your career) I sent my script out to the more legit-looking places.

And now it's all about the waiting.

Though I've seen more action than most to this point. A low-level exec at one of the companies I read for passed my script with his recommendation to a couple of managers he has dealt with and liked, one of which had also requested it from me. So I got a quick read from them, and a meeting with a manager last week.

Just coffee, not lunch, a getting-to-know-you thing, but it went well. A very good vibe. The manager liked the script, needs his boss to read it, and then I'll meet with both. They are a small company, but they have sold a lot of stuff, don't attach themselves to much as producers, and are very focused on career-building. So it's all good so far.

Naturally, being in the L.A. area helps with this whole process. A lot.

So as I wait to see which ball drops next, I'm putting the finishing polish on my supernatural thriller, which no one in Hollywood has seen; it's nice to be able to dangle something that no one can get their hands on yet.

I've been trading e-mails with an impromptu circle of Nicholl semifinalists, swapping representative-seeking advice and the names of companies contacting people, so we can see which places are asking for everyone's script (which probably guarantees a huge pile of scripts on the floor of their office, and a long turnaround time) and which are being more selective. I'm even having drinks with a couple of these fellow writers tonight.

Ultimately this is just all very interesting to me. The whole Nicholl experience has gotten me writing again, and jazzed about the possibility of a career, and hopefully it'll keep me in active mode rather than the passive mode I too often find myself in, particularly when it comes to trying to be proactive about my writing career.

So... things are in motion. The game is afoot. I can't wait to see what happens next.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Weekend Boxoffice #3

Toughie this week.

The Grudge 2 on 3211 screens
The Marine on 2545 screens
Man of the Year on 2516 screens
The Departed on 3017 screens
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning on 2820 screens

My wild guess:

The Departed $23.7 million
The Grudge 2 $23.3 million
Man of the Year $13.5 million
Texas Chainsaw $10.1 million
The Marine $8.2 million


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Girls, Girls, Girls

So it turns out that the major bump that you get from a Nicholl semifinalist placement is a lot of attention from manager/producers.

A lot of people have negative opinions of manager/producers, mostly because of the conflict of interest of someone who is supposed to be focused on your career as a manager also trying to boost their own career as a producer -- when push comes to shove, would they choose an offer better for them, or for the writer?

The problem is that most managers now work for management/production companies -- because they can.

So as I choose a reputable few to focus on (more on this process as it occurs), I find myself pondering the commerciality of my scripts.

I really don't aggressively think commercially as I write a script. I'm not writing uncommercially, but I'm not as focused as some people about things like writing scenes that would be great for the trailer, or lines of dialogue that can summarize the plot in a coming attraction, or trying to make my tale teen-friendly, or making sure stuff blows up real good.

Having said that, I find myself with three screenplays that are about to be in play:

My frozen-time script, my Nicholl script, and my almost-but-not-quite-done supernatural thriller.

All of them have female leads. Not only that, but the first two -- the only two that anyone are going to be reading, at this point -- both have 18-year-old female leads.

I'm not sure what the Freudian implications are of my writing so many female main characters. Ironically, none of my previous scripts, or even the two someday-I-have-to-finish scripts I've been noodling around with, have female leads. Just my three solid ones. So something must be working.

The problem is that I conceived both of these 18-year-old female lead scripts a number of years ago, and the actresses I always had in mind for them have all aged beyond it. Natalie Portman is too old now. Scarlett Johannsen always seems older than she is. Thora Birch, Anna Paquin, Jena Malone, Emmy Rossum, Rachel McAdams, Anne Hathaway, Keira Knightley... all would have been more age-appropriate a few years ago.

So, since I'm bound to be faced with the question of who I see in the part, and who can star in this, it's a question I should really start thinking about, if I want to try to raise a spark in someone's eyes.

Because the best option might be Lindsay Lohan, and even she's moving beyond teen roles.

So who else is out there? Who are the interesting young actresses that can carry a film, that you want to see? Evan Rachel Wood? Ellen Page? Or do I have to wait for Dakota Fanning or Abigail Breslin to grow into it?

Pontificate, please.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Not Fitting Into the Genre Box

When I submitted my Nicholl semi script to the competition, I had to identify the genre of the script, so that if it made the cut, and qualified for inclusion on the list being sent out to agents/managers/producers, the genre would be on it. Happily, it all happened.

The problem is that, as I've written in the past, the script is a mutt.

It's a character drama. It's a road movie. It's a hunting-a-serial-killer tale. It's not really a thriller, though there are some thriller moments. It's sort of action, but there aren't really any big action setpieces. It's sort of a mystery, but not really. There's a love story in the middle of it.

Most crucially, the main character, an 18-year-old girl, has a psychic power.

It works for what it is... but what is it?

So I don't even remember what my process was, but for some unknown reason, when I submitted the script, what I wrote in the genre line was "Fantasy Action Romance".

If nothing else, it sort of captures the fact that it's different.

But it doesn't really capture the script. And the first call I got about it was from a guy who was picturing The Princess Bride.

It's nowhere near The Princess Bride.

The tricky thing is that genre words have connotations. When you think Fantasy, it's sort of otherworldly. Lord of the Rings, Narnia, Willow, The Princess Bride.

My script takes place in present-day America. There are no creatures or little people. It's really not fantasy. Wrong connotation.

Science Fiction denotes technology, space, often the future. Star Wars, Star Trek, Minority Report, I Robot.

Supernatural denotes ghosts, demons, stuff like that.

There's not really a genre word that adequately describes a tale about a troubled girl with psychic powers falling in love while hunting a serial killer.

I could see that Fantasy was a mistake, so I actually e-mailed the Nicholl, and had them scrub the word off the list.

Of course, that leaves me with Action/Romance. Which is bound to leave people picturing something like Romancing the Stone, or Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

Not really what my script is either.

I suppose there are worse problems to have, and part of me is happy that I've written something that tried to be complex, that tries to be a lot of things.

The pessimist in me says that uncategoriable scripts tend to be dismissed.

I guess we'll see. But at least my new script is firmly a supernatural thriller.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Five Good Hours

Yesterday afternoon, I pushed everything else out of the way for a while -- reading, the wife, life, the Mets (who weren't on until later) -- and drove to a coffee shop, armed with a very rough copy of my supernatural thriller.

And there I sat, for five hours, totally immersed in my script. Page by page, pen marking, correcting, cutting, cutting, cutting. Feeling the script; what needed to go, what needed to be hammered home a little more, what needed to be dropped in.

Chopping out the repetitive and the extraneous, and bidding it a fond adieu.

Five hours, and it felt like 90 minutes.

I love when that happens. When I'm so involved in something that time just flies by, yet I'm getting something accomplished.

Last night, I got on my laptop, and started typing in all the changes. I finished this morning.

This draft is down to a tight 115 pages. It's almost there, I think. I can't tell, because my brain hurts.

But nothing beats being able to carve out the time to really curl up with your script, in one, solid, long sitting.

That the Mets won, and are moving on, and the Yankees lost, and are done for the year, is just gravy :-)

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Weekend Boxoffice #2

This week let's make it simple.

The Departed is opening, on a little more than 3000 screens.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning is opening on a little less than 3000 screens.

Predictions for the first three days, U.S. box office?

My picks:

The Departed $28.7 million
Texas Chainsaw $18.9 million

Protection, and the Page

My wife mentioned the fact that I'm a script reader to a woman at her job, who shared the story of her own husband. Apparently he'd spent two years writing a screenplay, then through a computer glitch he lost it all.

Every last word.

Do I feel bad for him? No. To me this just sounds stupid.

Because I worry about losing one day's work -- much less two years' worth.

Previously, whenever I wrote on my computer, I'd save everything on a disk at the end of the day. Not even the same disk every day -- I'd have 4 or 5 that I'd rotate through, just in case one was bad (or 2, or 3).

Since I've gotten the laptop, where I do all my writing now, at the end of every writing day I e-mail a copy of the script to myself.

Anal? Over-cautious? Maybe. But it takes a minute or two, and saves what could be hours of work.

But the main reason I'd never lose two years worth of work?

Every few weeks, I print out whatever I'm working on.

I've found that reading a script on the page is entirely different from reading it off the screen. And that there is nothing to jumpstart your writing -- and really seeing how it is going -- than just printing out what you have, and spending a chunk of time just curled up with the pages.

The process of disappearing into the pages just feels different than disappearing into the screen. Scenes will look differently, and read differently. Things will jump out -- scenes that are playing too long, dialogue that is dragging on and on.

More importantly, I can take a pen, and I mark the hell out of it. Jot ideas for dialogue changes, which I may or may not actually use, when I revisit it later - so it's not something I'm just impulsively changing in the computer, and then forgetting about. Tighten scenes down, pick up on repetitive bits.

I'm getting better about judiciously doing the whole editing thing too, particularly once I feel that the storyline is finally there (a place I feel I've finally gotten to with my supernatural thriller) and that the real polishing can begin.

If nothing else, the flexibility of holding the whole draft in your hand, so you can flip back and forth between scenes and lay them side by side, rather than scrolling through a draft on the screen, is invaluable.

So I have endless drafts of works-in-progress crammed into boxes in my closet, because not only do I not want to lose anything, but because I think that actually getting words onto paper, even in this computer age, is important to getting your script to work.

Writing a script for two years, and never letting the script out of your computer? On one level, ouch. But on a more basic level, to me it's a sign that he just wasn't taking it all seriously enough.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Some of My Distractions Are Happy Ones

I've been a New York Mets fan since I was a wee lad growing up on Long Island. My dad used to take me and a half-dozen friends for my birthday every year; we'd pile into the car, and battle traffic through Queens to the game.

Being a Mets fan has often been a painful process; for most of the 1990s they were horrible, and since 2000 they haven't been very good either.

Until this year.

When I lived in Manhattan in the 1990s, I used to go to about a dozen games a year, taking the subway out. Often I brought my glove, even as an adult chasing the elusive dream of catching a foul ball. I never did, though I was with two people who were able to snag balls (one happily tearing out the knees of his suit pants in the process).

I did catch an overthrow during pre-game infield practice, an old, scuffed ball; it doesn't really count, but somehow it still does, because one can imagine the game life the ball might have had before it was retired to fielding drills.

(I just picked it up, and squeezed it. As someone who used to play a lot of softball, I'm always surprised how small baseballs are).

I was at the playoff game in 1973 when Pete Rose and Buddy Harrelson got into the fight on the field, and where Rose was showered with debris when he trotted out to left field for the bottom of the inning. The ticket stub is framed on my wall.

I also remember the game, years later, when Rose hit three home runs in one game against the Mets -- an amazing feat for a non-power hitter in a tough ballpark to hit home runs in.

It's tough being a Mets fan in Los Angeles, because unless they are playing the Dodgers or the Braves (on superstation TBS) there just aren't many games on TV; maybe a random Wednesday night or Sunday night game here and there.

The Internet is a godsend, because there are several sites that do live pitch-by-pitch descriptions of games, which are particularly handy because I can do some work, and click over every few minutes and see what I missed.

Anyhow, the playoffs start this week, and the Mets are playing the Dodgers, which always seems appropriate, with the Mets created after the Dodgers and Giants fled to the West Coast in the late 1950s. In fact, the Mets' colors, blue and orange, are in tribute to the Dodgers blue and the Giants' orange.

I only went to one Mets game this year, and ironically it was the only game they lost (out of three they played) at Dodgers Stadium. For you Dodgers fans, it was the only game that Eric Gagne saved all season, and he looked great. Unfortunately, he was still hurting, and never pitched again all year.

I've become something of a Dodgers fan, but still the blue I bleed is Mets' blue. The Mets have finally put together a team of young players, crafty veterans, and even (rare for the Mets) an actual player (Carlos Beltran) who is in his prime. The Mets' starting pitching is a bit shaky (don't expect a lot of 1-0 games in this series), but their bullpen is strong, their bats have pop, and hell, it's just nice for the Mets to be playing in October.

And by all accounts they are good guys, who all get along well, and have been busting their butts all year. No divas, no whiners, just hard-working team guys. Can't beat that.

Delta Airlines even just named an airplane after amiable young third baseman David Wright.

So as I juggle reading work, and my rewrite, and my $60 notes offer (which I thought I had shut down but which continues to bring in scripts), and paying attention to my wife, and the premiere of Lost, there's the Mets. The Mets. The Mets.

So if you flip around the channels this week, and spot the game, hover for a second, and look at the green of the field, and how pitches defy logic and gravity to spin and rise over the plate.

And hopefully the Mets are in front.

And if anyone finds themselves with an extra Dodger Stadium ticket this weekend, give me a shout.

Monday, October 02, 2006


So late last night, not in the mood for writing (I did do some yesterday) or any more reading (ditto) I flipped on TV, cycled through some channels, and found "Saw", which was just about to start, and which I hadn't seen.

So what the hell. I watched it.

Saw has a great hook, in that it starts out with two guys, chained by their ankles to pipes on opposite ends of what looks like an oddly-huge bathroom, with a dead guy lying in a pool of blood in the center. They find small cassette tapes in their pockets, which fit in the cassette player near the dead guy, which they are able to retrieve.

When they play the tapes, they learn that same guy is messing with them. He has stashed things around the room to help them escape. But he also makes clear that if one guy doesn't kill the other by a certain time, the guy's wife and daughter will be killed.

At this point I was hooked, because there's something dark and primal about this, while the great thing about this story is that we feel like we are going through it with them; we find ourselves thinking about where helpful stuff can be, and how these guys can possibly get out of it.

It has the same appeal as many video games; you are put into a situation, and you have to figure out a way out of it.

*** Spoilers ***

Unfortunately, the writers really can't sustain the conceit. There's a great 90-minute movie in the basic concept here, a movie that just stays in the room with these two guys, as they puzzle stuff out, alternatively work with each other and turn on each other, and figure out the depths to which their unseen tormentor is messing with them.

Unfortunately this movie would have taken great talent to write, to sustain a piece with one location and two actors, and Saw doesn't really try. Instead it keeps leaving the room, for flashbacks and concurrent stories, that have a lot of shock value but which also keep costing the basic storyline a lot of its tension.

After a while all of these cutaway scenesl start feeling like a cheat, because none of the characters in the room are privy to most of this; in fact, no character in the movie is privy to most of this, not even the bad guy. It's a huge, twisty show that is really just put on for the audience, who are the only people who can really appreciate it.

But in terms of the bad guy's motivations, it just seems too contrived and over-complex, especially since at the heart of this the point is really supposed to be how basic this actually is. You have a chain around your ankle, a deadline, and a saw. How soon before you use the saw on your ankle?

So while it helps kill time to have another character who turns out to have kidnapped the wife and daughter because he is being manipulated into it, and an obsessed cop trying to figure it out, it all just feels like an unnecessary risk by the supposedly-psycholtically-brilliant villain.

Plus, the whole idea of the face-down apparently-dead guy on the floor actually being the bad guy has been used a lot, and here it really doesn't serve any purpose at all -- there's absolutely no reason he needs to spend 7 hours on the floor, playing dead, when he could be comfortably sitting in the room next door, watching and listening over a camera or through a two-way mirror. Yeah, it's a nice shot when he rises out of the blood at the end, but it still needs to make a certain amount of sense.

(I'm also unclear exactly who this guy is, and how he ties in with the doctor; there's some way-too-rushed-for-2AM exposition about a brain tumor, or something. The doctor and the other guy also remain naggingly underdeveloped).

Still, there are things here that work, and it's nice to watch a horror movie that gets parts of your brain working, even if it falls a bit short at the end; it's easy to see how this rose above most recent, unimaginative horror entries, and why the sequel did so well.

But I still think it would have been more satisfying just staying in the room, for 90 minutes, with these two guys.